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Founded in 2011, TunnelBear Inc. was acquired by the cybersecurity giant McAfee in 2018, which means that the Canada-based VPN provider now also falls under the privacy-challenged US jurisdiction.
The good thing is that John McAfee himself is not a fan of the NSA. The bad thing is that he’s also not a big fan of his own products, naming McAfee antivirus tools “the worst products in a f**king planet.”
In this TunnelBear review, I will try to answer the following questions: does it protect your privacy well enough? Can I stream Netflix and other services? Does TunnelBear VPN allow torrenting? And finally, is it worth paying for?
Security and privacy features
TunnelBear is safe to use as long as you have nothing to hide. After all, it was the first VPN company to initiate an independent self-audit that’s been done three years in a row now.
Both free and premium versions of TunnelBear VPN have great security and privacy features. On second thought, you would expect a bit more from a paid VPN service.
Encryption and tunneling protocols
TunnelBear uses top-notch AES-256 encryption – the same you will find in banks and the military. This cipher is so strong that it would take billions of years to crack it using brute force.
When it comes to tunneling protocols, TunnelBear uses:
- Obfuscation (GhostBear)
The first two are an industry-standard both in terms of speed and security. IKEv2 is available on Windows and iOS only, but you cannot switch between the protocols because TunnelBear assigns one automatically.
The last one should be used in countries where internet access is restricted to avoid government-induced blocks. Just have in mind that all obfuscation protocols severely impact speed, and TunnelBear has it turned on by default.
TunnelBear’s kill switch is named VigilantBear. It’s effective against leaking sensitive information in case the VPN connection drops. If that happens, VigilantBear will shut down your internet connection completely.
Unfortunately, it’s not available on the iOS devices yet. Users of other platforms can toggle the kill switch on and off from the client’s Security Settings.
No identity leaks
During the test, I found no DNS or WebRTC (IPv6) leaks that could reveal your identity.
TunnelBear uses its own DNS servers, giving you protection against DNS leaks. It means that your ISP has no idea of what sites you visit. If you want to make sure you’re not susceptible to the other leaks, turn WebRTC off on your browser. Alternatively, you can disable IPv6 for the whole connection.
I also recommend running both IP and DNS leak tests for yourself to make sure your connection is protected. You can easily find different tests by searching for “dns leak test” and “ip leak test.”
Canadian jurisdiction raises privacy concerns
Canada is where TunnelBear VPN is based, and that’s not great because this country belongs to the Five Eyes alliance. What’s more, TunnelBear was bought by McAfee in 2018, which is under the US jurisdiction. McAfee himself is not a big fan of NSA, but both countries are known for tough anti-piracy laws and make TunnelBear subject to data retention policies.
TunnelBear used to own all their servers, but this is no longer advertised on their website. This means that a service cannot have 100% control over their user’s data being transferred or even stored.
Also, as you will see below, TunnelBear’s logs have a bit of extra information that might prove to be interesting for the authorities. If a VPN provider has truly zero logs, the governments won’t be able to find anything about you.
TunnelBear claims to have a “fierce no-logging policy,” yet it collects and stores some logs about your authentication time, OS version, VPN app version, monthly bandwidth usage, etc. Luckily, it doesn’t include activity inside the network.
I’m not saying that all logging is evil since certain operational processes can only be maintained by having basic data about the users. But TunnelBear is clearly logging more than the needed minimum.
As per TunnelBear’s logging policy, your personal data will be provided to authorities “in the event TunnelBear is served with a valid subpoena, warrant, or another legal document.” Secondly, the VPN says that they “may send data to third-party service providers” for “understanding website analytics” – which could mean almost anything.
TunnelBear allows anonymous payment with Bitcoin, but it doesn’t fully support anonymous purchasing. That is because your email address will be your login name, thus it cannot be a throwaway account. In any case, there are still quite a few services that don’t allow anonymous payments with gift cards or cryptocurrencies, so TunnelBear VPN is doing quite a good job in this department.
Speed: lightning-fast or just bearable?
My TunnelBear speed test has found that the situation has improved significantly since our last update.
Here are my results without a VPN from a location in Europe:
- Download: 288 Mbps
- Upload: 285 Mbps
- Ping: 3 ms
TunnelBear Germany server speed results
- Download: 171 Mbps (41% drop-off)
- Upload: 6 Mbps (98% drop-off)
- Ping: 151 ms
TunnelBear United States speed results
- Download: 177 Mbps (39% drop-off)
- Upload: 9 Mbps (97% drop-off)
- Ping: 120 ms
TunnelBear Australia speed results
- Download: 89 Mbps (69% drop-off)
- Upload: 3 Mbps (99% drop-off)
- Ping: 475 ms
Despite the atrocious upload and unusually high ping in Germany and Australia, I can say that TunnelBear provides fast download speeds across the globe. Of course, the company doesn’t state how many of their 1000+ servers in 20+ countries are virtual and how many are actually out there in Australia or another country. Therefore, I’d advise taking these TunnelBear speed test results with a pinch of salt, and, most importantly, to run your own before buying.
Does TunnelBear support my device?
That’s very likely because this service has apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. In addition, browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera are available. Chrome users can also download TunnelBear Blocker, which attacks ads and tracking.
Unfortunately, there’s no support for a router or any other device, so you won’t be able to make TunnelBear your home VPN, even though it allows five simultaneous connections.
TunnelBear apps are pretty similar across the platforms, offering an easy-to-use and simple interface. Most buttons and settings have clear descriptions so that even novice computer users would know what to do to protect themselves online.
TunnelBear desktop apps: Windows and macOS
TunnelBear apps for Windows and macOS are pretty similar, save for the Settings. Both versions offer similar features – switching TCP Override, VigilantBear, GhostBear, and managing Trusted Networks. All these can be toggled by pressing the cogwheel on the top left.
Those who want to connect as fast as possible can simply press the On/Off button at the top left and let the VPN select the best location. You can also choose one of the 20+ countries by pressing the drop-down menu icon.
Most importantly, both macOS and Windows apps are as secure as another. The only key difference is that the macOS version doesn’t have the IKEv2 protocol.
TunnelBear mobile apps: Android and iOS (iPhone & iPad)
Downloading Android or iOS version requires you to log in to Google Play Store or App Store, respectively. Both apps look similar at first sight, but looks can be and are deceiving in this case.
Their Android app is as secure as the desktop versions, having the same encryption, protocols, and other features. In fact, it even has SplitBear – a split tunneling option that is unavailable on desktop. SplitBear allows you to choose which apps will use a VPN connection, so, for example, you can torrent safely and browse freely at full speed.
Unfortunately, TunnelBear for iOS is a total lackluster. The only two things you can do is add Trusted Networks and toggle Bear Sounds.
Without a kill switch (VigilantBear), your IP address will be exposed in case of a VPN failure, and TunnelBear is prone to that. Also, without a stealth protocol (GhostBear), you most likely won’t be able to browse freely in China and other countries where internet access is restricted.
TunnelBear for web browsers: Chrome, Firefox, and Opera
TunnelBear offers three browser extensions and TunnelBear Blocker that stops ads and tracking attempts, including email pixels, fingerprinting, and ultrasonic tracking. However, it’s available on Chrome only. Furthermore, the last time that TunnelBear updated the Blocker was back in 2018.
The situation with TunnelBear browser extensions is not much better. I was disappointed to find that the Chrome version was last updated in October 2019. Sadly, this looks pretty good considering that the Opera version dates back to January 2019. Only the Firefox extension saw an update a few months ago.
Unfortunately, there are virtually no settings to tweak save for some keyboard shortcuts. But the most concerning thing about them, Blocker included, is the list of dubious permissions that these extensions require. Reading and changing all your data on the websites you visit and managing your extensions are only just a few of them.
Check this article to learn more about using TunnelBear.
Netflix and other streaming services
Netflix doesn’t work with TunnelBear, be it the US, the UK, or the Australian Netflix library. If it did, though, users even from distant locations would probably have enough connection speed to stream smoothly in HD or even 4K – at least that’s what I got from Fast.com tests.
Free version users probably know that 500 MB per month won’t get them too far if you want to watch Netflix. Unfortunately, the Paid version won’t get you much further either.
When it comes to other streaming platforms, it would be surprising to see TunnelBear unblock BBC iPlayer, Hulu, or Amazon Prime in the near future.
Does it work with Kodi?
TunnelBear is friendly for Kodi. It offers great encryption, protects your IP, and is easy to install and use. The best part is that speeds shouldn’t be of an issue, but you should still test with the Free version first.
As for those who want to use Kodi to see what they shouldn’t see, they should consider a VPN in a friendlier jurisdiction than Canada.
Read here for how to use TunnelBear with Kodi.
Does TunnelBear support torrenting?
No, TunnelBear doesn’t support torrenting, and you shouldn’t use this VPN for P2P. While that doesn’t mean that torrenting won’t work for everyone, don’t expect any help on this matter from the provider – they offer no explanation on their decision.
When it comes to torrenting policies, I don’t recommend using TunnelBear. Canada’s laws require all ISPs and VPNs to log identifiable user info, and its website has zero information about P2P. So, either TunnelBear is lying to the government about keeping such logs, or it’s lying to you about not keeping them.
I suggest you look for a more torrent-friendly VPN if you don’t see your future without P2P action.
Support: a knowledgebase and email
TunnelBear has no live chat support. Hopefully, this VPN will reconsider and provide their 20+ million users with proper and fast live support.
In the meantime, the Help page on its website gives you three options:
- Search the help database
- Browse categories and featured articles
- Log in and submit a ticket
The response to your support ticket usually takes from a few to 24 hours. The TunnelBear support must have gone through some improvements because you can still find older comments with users complaining about slow and useless support.
Pricing: is TunnelBear a good deal?
These are the pricing plans TunnelBear offers:
- Free: 500 MB/month
- 1-month: $9.99
- 1-year: $4.16/month or $49.89 (save 58%)
- 3-years: $3.33/month or $120.00 (save 67%) plus three-years of RememBear Password Manager
- Teams: from $5.75/month annually for one person
It’s a big bonus that you can try and use TunnelBear for free. This service allows you 500 MB free monthly traffic, which can be extended with an extra 1 GB by tweeting about the VPN on Twitter. There’s also a 7-day free trial for the Teams plan.
For general users and travelers, even these could be acceptable conditions if the only aim is to access geo-restricted web content or stream some smaller videos. But the political activists, hackers, or torrent users who need unlimited bandwidth and a higher level of security, will find the free version useless.
TunnelBear accepts credit cards and Bitcoins. There used to be a PayPal option, and I hope it will return someday, like a Jedi.
One negative touch about the pricing is that TunnelBear doesn’t have a money-back guarantee. Nevertheless, you can always try it for free and see if you get what you want. But to be honest, while these prices don’t look high, you can get better VPNs for the same money that unblock Netflix and support P2P.
Should you buy TunnelBear VPN?
No, you shouldn’t buy this VPN. TunnelBear may be good for casual users that aren’t into streaming and torrenting, but others can easily find a better option at the same price.
Power users will miss customization options, especially for the iOS app and browser extensions, that have virtually none of them.
The free version provides you with the same level of security and privacy, although you’re limited by bandwidth, which almost makes no sense to use it at all unless for a trial.